If you were running for president, what would you run on?
These days there are more presidential candidates than ever, and those candidates like to come up with idealized policy proposals that have no chance of passing to post on their websites and shore up their ideological credentials. I’ve decided to join the ruckus with my own mix of libertarian proposals from fairly obvious to extremely radical. I’m going to be treating these pieces as a first draft of my hypothetical presidential platform with room for growth and change, and I won’t be delving too deeply into any single topic.
1. Drug Policy Reform
Easy one. Drug policy is pretty absurd in the United States. Everyone has pretty much come around on mandatory minimums and marijuana continues to be decriminalized and even legalized in some states. The federal government’s War on Drugs has been a failed experiment. Here are the proposals:
- Full legalization of buying, transporting, owning, using marijuana at the federal level
- Decriminalization of other drugs
- Reduction in sentencing of nonviolent drug offenders, ending mandatory minimums
- Proportional reduction in DEA funding
Decriminalizing drugs besides marijuana is pretty radical, but the current policy of prohibition encourages organized crime to profit off of drug trafficking and has helped fuel some of the most violent gangs on earth. We don’t want cocaine available over the counter at the local drugstore either, but legalizing and regulating these drugs is a far better alternative that helps to undermine the black market. Overall though, drug policy remains an area with broad bipartisan agreement.
2. Tax Reform
The tax code is also something that most people would agree is universally terrible. It’s far too difficult to file your taxes in a world dominated by easy-to-use digital applications. Moreover, there’s pretty good agreement that most tax deductions are inefficient, and the effects of employer provided healthcare exemption is especially egregious. Another area I find important to reform in the tax code is the very high corporate tax rates in the United States. This high rate exists despite the fact that taxed corporate income cannot go to individuals (rich or poor) without being taxed again (either in the form of wages or dividends). Another area of interest is a carbon tax which, while certainly not very libertarian of me, is an important step to provide disincentives for some carbon production as (at the very least) a form of risk management. A tax is also far less inefficient that uneven limits on carbon production that affect only power plants.
- Ending exemptions for employer provided health insurance
- Instituting carbon tax at ~$20/ton of carbon, removing recently announced EPA limits on power plants
- Cutting all tax rates so taxes are lower (7-10 percentage points)
- Remove all tax exemptions, except for general exemption
- Significant reduction in corporate tax rate
These reforms would significantly increase the efficiency and ease of doing taxes, which should provide some concrete benefits for the economy immediately. I chose not to change the current progressive-ness of the tax code, because there doesn’t seem to be huge reductions in high income productivity at current levels, and these reforms may or may not reduce the effective tax rate of high income earners (decreased rates vs few to no tax exemptions).
3. Social Security Reform
This one is in the obvious section because it’s pretty clear that some Social Security reform is needed. People are living a lot longer, and SS isn’t means-tested. Thus, it seems pretty straightforward to reduce the size of this entitlement program (conservative proposal) while keeping it intact for most middle to low-income seniors (progressive interest).
- Increase retirement age for people currently under the age of 53
- Increase means-testing
- Remove all taxes on Social Security income
This is pretty much all we can do at the “Obvious” stage of this platform. For more comprehensive change, I recommend looking at this (somewhat older) proposal for more privatization of retirement accounts. A more radical addition to this plank might include allowing workers to start contributing their money to a private account now, with a carryover amount based on how much they have contributed so far.
4. Military Fiscal Cuts
The ridiculousness of the amount of waste in the US military is legendary. And my proposal is not to cut all military spending; we are required by NATO to spend 2% of GDP on defense. As it is currently, we are one of only ~3 NATO countries that are actually meeting our requirements…by spending twice as much as we need to. Getting closer to 2% would save hundreds of billions and could be achieved by cutting through waste and overhauling the procurement system. At today’s spending levels we are not making ourselves safer; we are throwing money at the military and hoping something sticks. In reality, the United States hasn’t been in existential danger for 25 years now, and defense spending needs to be brought down to earth. We aren’t going to endanger the US by stopping excessive programs such as the production of the M1 Abrams tank that the Army has asked Congress to stop making more of for several years.
- Reduce US military budget to reach 2.5% of GDP by 2018
- Veto any funding bill that explicitly funds projects the military has not asked for
- Overhaul procurement system
The Politically Challenging
1. Intellectual Property Reform
Several of these areas come from this excellent Cato paper on deregulating the economy, but IP reform has been an interest of mine for a while. Intellectual property has ballooned far out of proportion from what it was. IP “rights” were never considered common law “rights” like a right to privacy or right to trial by jury; they were explicitly written into the Constitution in Article 1, Section 8 where Congress could make copyright/patent laws for the express purpose of incentivizing the arts and sciences. If IP Laws are too limiting and are actually halting the advancement of arts and sciences, their existence should be ruled unconstitutional. Of course, Justice Ginsberg and six concurring justices (in their infinite wisdom) ruled that Congress could extend copyright for any number of years that wasn’t literally infinite. For more information, see my own previous post on copyright and watch CGP Grey’s excellent short video.
- Copyrights reduced to 40 years
- Patents reduced to 15 years
Note: there is very little way this could pass since very powerful and rich media interests have business models based on extended copyright. Thus its location in this section. Nevertheless, this is a somewhat redistributive reform and should be supported by anyone who wants to make it easier for a middling worker with a brilliant creative idea to profit from it, even if it involves building on the works of others.
2. Occupational Licensing
Another excellent idea from the Cato paper on deregulation, Occupational Licensing is something the Obama administration has finally started to look at. I would support continued research on the economic effects of occupational licensing. And the effects of this bad practice really are pretty terrible, and growing.
- Research funding for the effects of local occupational licensing on the economy
- Allowing certain licenses to function and be recognized in other states.
I need more information in this area, and many reforms cannot be done at the federal level, but it is an important issue of reform that would once again be fairly redistributive and attack the current hierarchy of licensing.
3. Tapering Federal Subsidization for Education Loans
Subsidizing student loans allows universities to continue to increase tuition with no market forces to push back. This is an economic problem causing college to become both more expensive and more necessary to get good employment opportunities. Increasingly the returns from college are not coming from education, but from status signaling and the stratification that university admission creates. And this is no longer just a free market activist issue, Rolling Stone has noticed the scam that college has become, and high borrowing costs for college are becoming a well known frustration across the political spectrum. These subsidies need to stop.
This final section is a laundry list of personal reforms. They center on things whose existence I cannot fathom due to the depths of their idiocy and thus the reasons these policies continue to exist are probably just as unknowable. It’s clear whatever lobbyists are keeping these structures in place are funded by powers both awesome and terrifying.
1. Ending Daylight Savings Time Changes
- Keep us on Daylight Savings Time permanently
- Stop changing the clocks twice a year
- Stop killing people in car accidents the Monday after DST starts
2. End circulation of the penny
CGP Grey once again. We only keep these around because it’s a subsidy to the zinc industry, and most people don’t care enough to realize how much money pennies actually cost them. It’s moronic. Get rid of them and round off all transactions to the nearest 5 cents. Put Lincoln on another coin if you really want to.
3. Currency Design Update
There are 7 presidents currently on US currency (not including the presidential $1 coin program): Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, Jackson, and Grant. Why Jackson, who had an unrivaled contempt for the Bank of the United States and indeed all paper money, is on our currency is absurd. Apart from this, Jackson is controversial; his blatant disregard of the Supreme Court and forced march of the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears are pretty bad, but in his defense, his policies had wide impact and he founded the modern Democratic Party. He is also often listed among the top 10 presidents by historians. Should someone so controversial (and who hated paper money!) really be on our currency? Luckily, there is a significant founder, James Madison, who is not represented on our currency. He essentially authored the Constitution and helped to construct the modern American Republic. Additionally, Ulysses S. Grant is somewhat of an odd choice for our money. His list of accomplishments for his presidency is mostly just summed up as “corruption”, and his military strategy was sound, but not exactly remarkable. Grant was a war hero, but his accomplishments are about or below average. We have many more interesting presidents. My personal favorite is Grover Cleveland, but there is also an argument to be made for Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
4. Replacement of Government Paper Standard from Letter to A4
A4 paper is based on an international standard where the ratio of the paper is intentionally set up to allow for the paper to be folded in half and still maintain the same ratio. So you can easily design an image and then print it out doubled on a piece of paper. Or theoretically scale it down to allow for 4 or 8 or 16 of the same design on a single page. US letter paper does not have this benefit and is thus far inferior. In 1980, the US government switched from some other arbitrary size to US Letter size. I’d recommend everyone switch to A4, and start by making the government do it. It’s pretty ridiculous we don’t do this already, but late is better than never.
And that’s it! I’m sure I will be expanding this list (healthcare, police militarization, civil liberties) but it’s a good start!